By: Brad Roberts
originally posted September 1, 2012
Learning what we’ve got when it’s gone.

Regular readers of this column will remember that this time last fall I wrote ‘parting is such sweet sorrow’ in reference to closing up our boats for the last time at the end of the season. They will also reflect back on last spring’s ‘Oh darn, foot-itis again’ column in which I bemoaned that fact that our kids got bigger – a lot bigger – over the winter, and that somehow magically our boat seemed smaller – a lot smaller the first few weekends of this past season. So we as a family started to ‘just look’.

You all know what that means. One word: “Trouble”.

We looked for the new (to us) boat in the boatyards of not only our own backyard of Georgian Bay, but also in the virtual internet boatyards, and in the pages of stacks and stacks of used boat for sale magazines.

We had on our “wander-list” a family trip across Canada and while the kids were still young enough, we seized the chance and took it this past summer. We sold our beloved 30’ Sea Ray Sundancer “Captain Daddy” and traded it – very temporarily – for a land yacht: a 34’ class A Damon motorhome. (And that happened only because there is no way to go across Canada by water.) On the trip we even looked in the marinas and brokerages all across our great country for our “new” boat.

It’s now fall, and the boating season is over, and we are unfortunately still boatless. I’ve heard of the raw emptiness that parents feel when they go from having spent years raising a family – with all the busy-ness and excitement and constant goings-on that entails – only to watch the kids go off to university and suddenly all is quiet. The term society uses to refer to these folks is “empty-nesters”.

Well, it seemed very strange this fall to not be winterizing our boat. There was no final overnight on the hook, no haul out weekend. No washing. No scrubbing. No waxing. No covering. There was nothing in our slip to haul out to do any of those things to. I think the correct term to refer to us might be “empty slip-ers”.

The bright side of all of this of course comes from the kids. In their own way, in their own time initially, and yet often and repeatedly since then, each of our three girls have expressed how very much they miss ‘the boat’. (They are so quick to add that they don’t want to sound unappreciative because the trip across Canada was spectacular, and they enjoyed the RV.) But it isn’t ‘the boat’. Nothing can replace the boat. They miss the boat. They want it back.

And so we will continue our quest over this coming winter in the boat shows and boat yards – virtual and otherwise – in search of that which feeds our collective family soul. Indeed, in the words of Joni Mitchell, sometimes you just ‘don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’.